Red Eyes and Red Bulls
A college student's guide to a more relaxed life.
Red Bull gives you wings.
I mean, that’s literally what the little blue can promises you. And in a way, that tangy and bubbly liquid does.
I didn’t come to experience the power of Red Bull until my first semester of college. The week before finals, I had a monstrous portfolio due in my creative writing class. Being the charming procrastinator that I am, the day before it was due, I had yet to begin my final fiction piece. Don’t get me wrong, I’d gone to the library and opened up a word document several times in an attempt to piece together a fantastic short story, but the blinking cursor at the top of the page never made it through more than a crappy opening sentence. Due-Date-Eve was also the day of the Winter Formal, which my roommates and I had been anxiously anticipating for months, and there was not a chance on the planet I would miss it. My gorgeous sparkly blue prom gown hadn’t been hanging in my closet all semester for nothing. After a long day of classes and the three hours it took to curl my hair, accessorize, and apply my makeup, the day had turned to night, and my portfolio was due in less than twelve hours.
The dance was a blast! Bouncing to the beat of my favorite songs from the early 2010’s didn’t even make my feet sore in my Converse high-tops. I got back to my dorm at about one in the morning, and by the time I’d rinsed off all the makeup, sweat, and blue sparkles, my portfolio was due in just over six hours. Now that my time had dwindled from what seemed like endless weeks to hours in the single digits, the pressure was really starting to hit me. There was no more avoiding this. I pulled out my secret weapon (a Red Bull, of course), chugged it down in seconds, and hunched over my laptop in my tiny dorm bed to crank out a four-thousand-word short story.
And the story that birthed from that night was completely awful, let me tell you.
I finished my horrendous excuse for a story, stuck it into my portfolio, and then went to my classes the next day as usual. Only I hadn’t gotten a wink of sleep, my brain was entirely drained, and my eyeballs felt like they were melting in their sockets.
This wasn’t a one-time thing either. Since I started college, all-nighters have been quite a regular occurrence. Once, I stayed up all night finishing homework, boarded a chartered plane at 5 am, and flew with the university marching band to a bowl game in Louisianna, where I performed in a pep rally and Mardi gras parade that very night. I’m certainly no stranger to sleep deprivation. The huge bags that constantly lurked under my red eyes had morphed into a tragic fashion statement.
This year, with my New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve decided to not accept relentless exhaustion as the norm for a college student. It’s time to change.
My first resolution: Bedtime on school nights is no later than 11 pm. After 8 hours of rest, I will wake up, eat a good breakfast, and exercise at the gym.
This alone already seemed like an impossible task for a fresh eighteen-year-old living on their own for the first time. Last semester, I could count the number of times I went to bed before midnight on a single hand. I’ve resolved that if I work toward this goal, not only will I be taking better care of my body by giving it the proper rest, strength, and exercise it needs, but I will also be in a better mental and physical state to attend class. I cannot tell you how many times I have walked into a lecture hall after a long night, slumped into my seat, started taking notes, and then suddenly, I couldn’t hold my eyes open, no matter how hard I struggled. As I would drift into sleep, flurries of random thoughts floated across my brain, jumbling with the muffled drone of the professor’s lecture, and my pencil would scribble off the page as my head dropped. (It was always interesting to later read the notes I took while only half-awake). By being active, fueling up on nutrients, and waking up hours before class instead of thirty minutes prior, it is my goal to feel refreshed and focused this semester.
Here’s the catch: You can’t just make a New Year’s Resolution to get more rest, just like you can’t resolve to lose thirty pounds this year, without developing a plan. And so, after careful thought, my strategy to achieve my goal is as follows:
To go to sleep earlier, I will need to add another resolution to the list—ending my lifelong habit of procrastination. I don’t think I have ever done or finished anything without it being at the last minute. Besides, with the exception of my creative writing portfolio, I do my best work under pressure! I’ve always lived by the principle that assignments don’t have to be done until the “do date.” Any other way, and I just don’t have the motivation to get started. If it isn’t due until the end of the week, there are plenty of other things I could be doing, such as watching a TV show or hanging out with my roommates. Unfortunately, this also means that due dates become the most stressful nights of my life. Imagine staring at your computer screen for hours, trying to solve one never-ending calculus problem after another until it feels like your brain will start oozing out of your ears, or having to write an entire essay in one sitting without having decided on a strong topic.
To overcome procrastination, I need to change my perception of due dates. The sooner I complete and submit an assignment, the sooner I can push it out of my mind and continue to the next. Instead of waiting for the stress and work to pile up, I can quickly get tasks out of the way where I will then have time to relax and go out with friends. Maybe my parents were on to something when they always told me to work first and play later. This semester, I’m going to keep track of all my assignments by using a planner and work on submitting things long before the last minute creeps up. That way, I will be able to go to sleep at a reasonable hour instead of powering through my homework like a maniac all night long.
The next step in my strategy to get more rest is to tackle the obstacle of screen time. I don’t think I am alone in the fact that I spend way too much time on my phone. Every night before I go to bed, I do a quick scroll through Instagram, then I move on to Snapchat, and then before I know it, an hour and a half has gone by. Even above social media, the greatest temptation of all is Netflix. One of my favorite things to do is to hop into bed and binge-watch at least four episodes of Vampire Diaries. The only problem is that suddenly it’s 3:30 in the morning and I can’t fall asleep because my brain refuses to shut off.
Research shows that staring at a screen is one of the worst things you can do in the hours leading up to bedtime. That’s why I have made it a goal to put away all my electronics and take some time to wind down before sleep. This year, I plan to spend far less time aimlessly absorbed in my phone and more of my free time doing productive things to strengthen my skills and grow as a person. Once my homework is done, instead of going right to Netflix, maybe I will work on my musical talents by singing, or drumming, or pulling out my keyboard. With the time I used on social media, perhaps I will spend more time writing, or getting on top of my physical fitness. Or even napping!
With the rapid spread of the Coronavirus continuing to be a prominent danger in our world today, preserving our body’s health and strength by getting enough rest is one of the most important things we can do. If each of us took some time to highlight our individual obstacles to a healthy sleep schedule, perhaps the situation would improve. Feel free to implement some of my ideas if you feel they might be helpful. After all, my main goal in all of this is to take care of my body, and by prioritizing my health, become better able to help others. It will take work, but seeing a little improvement each day is all that matters.
You know what really gives you wings? A full eight hours of sleep!